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Climate Change: New, Big Threat to Protected Areas

World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) warned Tuesday that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are now higher than any time in the past 420,000 years in the planet.   

Claude Martin, Director-General of WWF International, noted that such climate change impacts will damage protected areas and other valuable habitats unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced drastically.


The heat waves, droughts, forest fires and other extreme weather events over the past months have also had serious impact upon the climate change, he added.


Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas for energy. It accounts for over 80 percent of global warming pollution. The main polluting industry sector is the electricity producers of the world with a share of 37 percent of carbon dioxide emission.


Changing patterns of climate affect the natural distribution limits for species or communities, forcing them to migrate in response to changing conditions.


According to a latest report, a total of 102,102 protected areas have been established in the world, covering more than 18.8 million square km, equivalent to 12.65 percent of the earth's land surface or an area greater than the combined land area of China, South Asia and Southeast Asia.


Around the world, conditions are resulting in the loss of rare species, such as the Golden Toad in Costa Rica and the Edelweiss in European Alps.


Coral reefs are under threat due to coral bleaching caused by warmer sea temperatures. National parks around the world, from Canada's parks in the Arctic tundra to the Richtersveld National Park in Succulent Karoo in South Africa, have identified climate change as the main pressure causing habitants and species to shift beyond the park borders.


Protected area agencies could be faced with the daunting task of having to shift protected areas to keep up with moving habitats and ecosystems, said Claude Martin.


He said at a press briefing: "since the last World Parks Congress 10 years ago, it has become clear that climate change is a new and major threat to protected areas. World leaders must take steps immediately to reduce carbon dioxide emissions if the world' s protected areas are to avoid irreversible damage."


WWF has challenged key actors in the electricity producing sector globally -- utilities, politicians and banks -- to switch from coal to clear energy which include wind, solar and biomass sources.


"If the World Parks Congress is to make a difference to protected areas over the long term, it must address the threat of climate change. Ongoing conservation efforts risk to be futile if we do not combat climate change," Martin said.


He appeals to the world to cut two degrees of global temperature as an immediate action by all countries.


Despite repeated requests by world leader and concerned citizens, Russia has failed to act decisively to combat global warming. Russian ratification of the Kyoto climate treaty is still bogged down in bureaucracy.


The United States, which produces 25 percent of carbon dioxide of the world, rejected to sign the Kyoto Protocol.


US President Bush declared two years ago that the US will not seek ratification, followed meekly by Australia's Prime Minister John Howard.


(CRI September 10, 2003)

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